The Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled by Formula 1 bosses just hours before practice was due to begin on Friday, following McLaren's withdrawal from the race due to one of its team members testing positive for coronavirus.
The decision by Formula 1 and the FIA, motorsport's governing body, was announced on Friday morning in Australia, with fans already queueing for admission to the street circuit in Albert Park, Melbourne. It was made after discussions between F1 bosses, the FIA, Australian Grand Prix organisers and the ten teams over whether the event should proceed.
A statement from Formula 1 and the FIA said: "Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for Covid-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, the FIA and Formula 1 convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening. Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. The FIA and Formula 1, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.
"We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course."
The statement thanked the race organisers and staff and volunteers due to work at the end, but added that all parties involved in the decision "concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition take priority."
The last-minute decision put to an end highly unusual scenes in the paddock, with some of the teams attempting to pack up while race organisers reportedly pressed on with plans for the event to run. Reports suggest that at least two drivers had already left the country, having decided not to race.
McLaren announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from the event after one of its team members tested positive for the coronavirus, which heightened existing controvery that the event was still going ahead despite concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In a statement, McLaren said: “The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities.
“The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee, who will now enter a period of quarantine. The team is co-operating with the relevant local authorities to assist their investigations and analysis.
“The decision [to withdraw from the race] has been taken based on a duty of care not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners, but also to the team’s competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders.”
Following McLaren's announcement, Australian Grand Prix corporation boss Andrew Westacott said the event was in talks with F1 and Australian health officials about the "broader implications" of the diagnosis. It is understood local officials suggested the event could only run if spectators were not allowed entry, the idea of which race organisers had previously rejected.
In the lead-up to the event, organisers put a number of measures in place, including scrapping autograph sessions with the drivers.